BUFFALO, N.Y. — Experts on developmental disabilities in children say early intervention is key to helping through some of those issues throughout their lives.
However, some families are left waiting for services their kids require.
"Early intervention is very important. Identifying children early on to get them the services that they need and the family the support that they need," said Donna Ringholz, executive director at Bornhava, a center for children with developmental disabilities in Amherst.
Ringholz says early help for newborns to 3-year-olds is critical to their growth, especially for kids on the autism spectrum. Services include special instruction, speech, physical and occupational therapy. Youngsters are often treated in the home, daycare or centers like Bornhava.
"We see that critical age between 2 and 3 years of age. And language explodes during that time and so does social interaction. If that doesn't happen, it takes quite a while to catch up and to learn those skills,” she said.
County health departments authorize treatment for these children and work to find providers, but that can take time.
"It absolutely breaks my heart when I know there are kids sitting on waiting lists," said Jackie Skinner, director of Early Childhood Community Services, Cantalician Center for Learning.
Some agencies are dealing with a shortage of professionals available to evaluate and treat kids this age. The reasons are many and complex — ranging from the sheer number of kids who need help, to how much the agencies can pay their employees based on reimbursements from the state.
"Western New York and Buffalo is a huge area to cover," Skinner said.
Ringholz says Bornhava has decreased the amount of evaluations its therapists perform because of the costs involved.
"We don't have the people. We're constantly asking our staff who are here full-time if they could take cases after hours or before hours so we can meet those needs as they come in," Ringholz said.
Many providers are now collaborating with each other and the county to reach these kids at the most critical times in development.
"We've talked a lot about ways we can group the children as appropriate so you can see more children and get their needs met," Ringholz said.
Skinner says the Erie County Department of Health has encouraged agencies to more quickly recognize the kids who've already met their goals and discharge them from treatment, so they can move on to those still waiting for services.
And the earlier the better, the experts say.
"It's been my passion for 25 years, because I see the difference it makes in the children," Skinner said.